Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the opening of the Conference of the Heads of German Missions Abroad at the Federal Foreign Office on 29 August 2011 in Berlin

29.08.2011 - Speech

- Translation of advanced text -

My esteemed colleague, cher Alain,
Members of the German Bundestag,
Guests and friends of the Federal Foreign Office,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the tenth Conference of Heads of German Missions Abroad.

I’m especially delighted that my French counterpart and friend Alain Juppé has granted us the honour of his presence today.

Those of you who have been with the Federal Foreign Office for a while and are active worldwide in the service of diplomacy know that the tradition of the Ambassadors Conference started in Paris in 1993 while Alain Juppé was serving as French Foreign Minister. A bit more than half a decade later Germany too began this wonderful tradition. So of course it’s very special for us, after the eventful year we’ve had since the last Ambassadors Conference, to have such an important colleague from the European Union here to speak to us. Last year we welcomed Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa as our guest speaker.

The year since that last Ambassadors Conference has been highly eventful – especially the past six months. This makes me all the more pleased at the close cooperation which unites us.

My dear Alain, I won’t forget the wonderfully warm welcome that I received in Bordeaux in June or our intense conversations about the fundamental importance of Franco-German relations.

Thank you so much for the extraordinary hospitality that you showed us!

When we discuss Germany, Europe and the future of global governance in this forum in the coming days, we will do so knowing that the Franco-German friendship and partnership – which was built by many of our predecessors – is the foundation on which our efforts to help shape the world order can succeed.

German-French friendship, French-German friendship – and here I am intentionally speaking of friendship and not of partnership – is undoubtedly a foundation for Europe, undoubtedly a foundation for German foreign policy.

At a high-level meeting in Paris this week the groundwork will be laid for the difficult transformation in Libya that lies ahead. We’re happy that the Gaddafi regime has come to an end. And it is precisely because we weighed the opportunities and risks differently that we have so much respect for the contributions of France and our allies in carrying out Security Council Resolution 1973. Libya is starting off on a long, hard path. We have agreed to work in close coordination in supporting Libya – as with support for Tunisia and Egypt – and to work together on behalf of a vigorous European response to the sweeping changes south of the Mediterranean. Here we have in mind not only Tunisia and Egypt, of course; we also want to consider the other countries we are engaged with in this region. I am thinking of the many atrocities currently playing out before the world’s eyes in Syria. But I’m also thinking of the countries that have begun an internal reform process, for example Morocco. The offer of a transformation partnership stands – not only on the part of Germany, not only on the part of Germany and France, but on the part of the European Union as a whole. We want to support the countries in the region that are moving in the direction of democracy and freedom. This is our key task now – to keep looking forward in our work, to assist concretely in building things up.

The world we live in is changing fundamentally, before our very eyes. This is true of our daily lives, where the Internet, smartphones and social networks are profoundly altering our behaviour and our ways of interacting with one another. It also applies to the architecture of international politics, where sweeping changes have called into question old certainties and re-orientation is needed. Whoever bears political responsibilities in these times has to see past all the confusion to set a course which at once remains true to our society’s fundamental values and preserves our interests in the face of changed conditions.


In the case of Germany’s foreign policy, this course must always begin with Europe. Our Europe debate is currently dominated by a mood of crisis and a discourse that shows more concern than confidence. In this situation it is always particularly impressive to me to take a look at the European integration project from the edges of Europe. From the Balkans to the oppressed population of Belarus to the people fighting for democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other Arab and North African countries: around the world, “Europe” stands as an example, a model, a goal, a standard, a beacon of hope. Such views are sometimes naive, sometimes fraught with unrealistic expectations, sometimes far too idealized. But this view of our European Union from outside has something salutary and confidence-boosting about it in the midst of our day-to-day crisis management. In this time of trials for Europe, Europe needs friends. And the re-nationalization of politics in Europe cannot be the right response to the new challenge of globalization, which will become even greater in the future. Re-nationalization in Europe is not the right response for our times.

The European Union rests on two pillars. On one hand, it’s the union of peace which ultimately provided a categorical answer to the “German question” by integrating the biggest country in Central Europe after the catastrophe of nationalism and devastating wars. On the other, it’s the guarantee of prosperity for us Europeans in the world of today and tomorrow, where our relative influence is dwindling with the emergence of new powers. Only by acting together, in a model of cooperation, were we able to establish peace on our continent. But Europe is far more than just a lesson to be learned from the past. If we didn’t already have the EU, we would have to invent it now in response to globalization. Only by acting together will we be able to help shape global governance in line with our interests – from regulations for global free trade to respect for human rights to peace and security issues. Europe means much more than coming to terms with the past – above all, Europe means succeeding in the future, and that is what should provide us with security in this time of European challenges.

Without a strong economic foundation and competitive, innovative economies, Europe can have no credible or significant international presence. That’s why it’s so important to get our own household in order here in the Eurozone if we want to be able to even broach the topic of our role in global governance. Lots of mistakes have been made in the past. But it would be wrong to let ourselves be dissuaded by them. It was not wrong to introduce the euro; what was wrong was softening up on the agreed stability criteria for a shared currency.

It’s not the euro that’s our problem, but rather the irresponsible government – as well as private, might I add – spending in many countries, and we are no exception to this. That’s why there is no simple, quick and potentially also “radical” solution now, even if that’s what people are clamouring for. Germany, like France, was not stingy in its solidarity with Europe. Germany will continue to show solidarity. But if Europe’s economies are to recover, a change of course towards budget discipline, consolidation and enhanced competitiveness is crucial. Greece, Portugal and Ireland have earned our support through their willingness to make these painful changes, as have Spain and Italy for the courageous steps towards stability that they have taken in recent weeks. Fiscal discipline, discipline in spending is not an exclusively German concern, but rather is in the interest of all of Europe.

In this crisis Europe is giving itself the instruments needed to protect our single currency. And once again it is France and Germany in particular which have taken on a key role in the European Union, most recently through the important agreements between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Because there’s more than just the euro at stake. Protecting the common currency would already be reason enough to act decisively and courageously, but the entire political project of Europe is at stake. The crisis is also shaking the foundations of Germany’s foreign policy.

The future of Europe is the key issue in German policy. It goes to the heart of Germany’s raison d’être. The right answer cannot be found in intellectual fantasies of a split between the hard “northern euro” and the soft “southern euro” which some people are inclined to indulge in. It also cannot be found in Germany’s withdrawal from the euro – a move which would endanger not only our prosperity, but also the European peace order based on mutual trust. Re-nationalization would be a dangerous mistake. The opposite is what we need: to now take the step we couldn’t yet quite manage in Maastricht – towards greater coordination of economic, financial and monetary policy, with clear rules which will prevent a new debt crisis and fulfil policy requirements.

We are at a double crossroads. Do we choose more or less Europe as a response to the crisis? I am firmly convinced that it is in our own vital interest to choose the path towards more integration. But when we choose this path towards more Europe another question is raised: Who else is coming along? All EU member states are invited. But anyone who doesn’t want to go along must not be allowed to hold the others back. Not when it comes to the single currency, and not when it comes to the Common Security and Defence Policy. This deepening – and differentiation – is the main task in shaping European policy over the coming years. France is our indispensable partner on this path. In order for Europe to thrive we need France and we also need Poland – as vital, but not exclusive partners.

Many countries of the world present economic and career opportunities nowadays. But in Europe life is also safe; the air is clean; consumers have rights; and everyone has the freedom to develop fully as individuals. The European way of life exerts an attraction – and not only on the peripheries of the EU, in countries where millions of people hope to become members soon. We should be proud that our European culture and societies are so attractive to others. But Europe is attractive in tomorrow’s world only as an open, liberal society confident in the power of its own ideas which stands up for peace, security and prosperity not only within its borders but also in the countries to its east and south.

The new complexity in the world cannot lead us in politics to retreat to familiar national terrain; rather, it is an occasion to tackle what is new, what is approaching, with an open heart and open mind.

That’s why it is so important to resolutely counter those muffled and defensive voices which are trying to shut us off and shut others out. It’s important to counter those who claim that turning back the clocks and putting back old obstacles and barriers will somehow make things cosier, more manageable, simpler. This is a dangerous illusion. We must not allow freedom of movement within the Schengen area to be called into question – the fact that current events lead me to even say this today is regrettable enough.

At the same time, we must ask ourselves whether the alleged increase in security really is always worth the price we pay for our visa policy, which can often have a deterrent effect. In the past two years we have taken many practical steps – specifically here at the Federal Foreign Office – to simplify and speed up the issuing of visas, but my experience leads me to believe that we still need to question and discuss the purpose, the usefulness and costs of our visa process much more fundamentally.

Your applause – especially coming from those of you from the Federal Foreign Office – shows me that you know very well what practical difficulties in implementation I’m alluding to. But it’s worth the effort, and I say this to you very openly – in an age of globalization a networked country which so strongly depends on international exports, which depends so much on global networking, cannot afford a restrictive visa policy. This holds true for businesspeople, for students, for schoolchildren – we should be happy when they come here.


German foreign policy is peace policy because it’s geared in the broadest sense towards greater security. In this we are carrying on a six-decade-long tradition of continuity in German foreign policy. The preamble to the Basic Law explicitly charges us “to promote world peace in a united Europe”. Europe and peace policy are the two constants that have accompanied the Federal Republic of Germany since its founding.

The transatlantic alliance with the United States and Canada remains the proven anchor of German security policy. We hosted the NATO foreign ministers here in this room in April. A few months earlier in Lisbon we had agreed on a new Strategic Concept which equips us to meet today’s new challenges. Picking up on President Obama’s initiatives, we have anchored disarmament and arms control in the Strategic Concept as NATO objectives and initiated a cooperative missile defence project with Russia – please note that’s with, and not against, Russia.

The uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials is one of the greatest threats to our security today. In the face of globalization, non-proliferation and disarmament are questions of survival. The two are very closely intertwined, as nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament remain a mutual international promise. That’s why we, along with nine other states, launched a Non-proliferation and Disarmament Initiative to enable us to work together to ensure that weapons of mass destruction don’t become the scourge of globalization. And that’s why we’re working in the E3+3 format towards a transparent solution to the nuclear dispute with Iran, whose behaviour is destabilizing not only the region – which would in itself be reason enough in my opinion – but the entire non-proliferation regime. We oppose a nuclear-capable Iran if it is a matter of nuclear weapons and not only of civilian uses of nuclear power. This is not only because of our responsibility towards the region but also because of our fundamental convictions regarding nuclear non-proliferation. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is of course highly significant in these times of asymmetric threats. We do not even want to imagine what could happen if terrorists or irrational personalities got their hands on nuclear weapons.

Peace and security in Germany are endangered by new threats today: spreading deserts, rising sea levels, rapid population growth in the least developed countries. By sweeping away borders, globalization increases health risks from pandemics, gives economic and financial crises the potential to destabilize entire countries and exposes us to new dangers on the Internet. The 21st century is starting off as an age of asymmetric threats. In the face of such complex challenges, security policy today must be prevention policy first and foremost. Security policy for the 21st century is security policy with civilian primacy. We are focusing on a concept of networked security, a mixture of diplomacy, development cooperation and economic partnerships.

Germany is prepared to continue to assume international responsibility. This may, as a last resort, include the use of military force. It was this Federal Government which set Germany’s engagement in Afghanistan on a new footing and also sent additional soldiers to the Hindu Kush. That decision, early in 2010, was anything but easy, given the dangers facing our soldiers on the ground. Rarely does the burden of responsibility weigh so heavily as at memorial services for fallen members of the Bundeswehr.

Since reunification, Germany has participated in many foreign missions. No Federal Government can reasonably rule out further deployments in the future. However, in both its foreign and its security policy, Germany remains fundamentally committed to a culture of military restraint. The decision to deploy troops is the most difficult one a politician can make, whether in a parliament or in a federal government, and we will continue to weigh it carefully in the awareness of both our responsibility for the soldiers in our service and our international obligations. It remains our goal to promote political avenues and solutions wherever possible. That’s why we’ve taken on the responsibility of organizing the international Afghanistan Conference in December here in Germany.


The unified Europe is our foundation, the transatlantic partnership our strong security anchor. Israel’s right to exist is part of Germany’s raison d’être. Our friendship with France is our most precious foreign policy asset.

Nurturing and intensifying these ties is a tradition and obligation of German foreign policy in our own very best interest.

At the same time, the world has changed dramatically since 1989. Back then, Germany’s gross domestic product was still one and a half times that of China. Now China’s GNP is twice the size of Germany’s. Today Germany, with its over eighty million inhabitants, accounts for little more than one percent of the world’s current population of over seven billion. And this proportion will continue to fall. Global demographic developments will challenge us more than we want to admit just now – and in all spheres, from education policy to foreign policy.

The pulsing, booming cities of the emerging societies provide the liveliest impression of the dramatic shifts in international structures, as I saw firsthand on my recent visit to Hanoi. In China, India and Brazil the desire to grab the future in both hands is almost tangible. But in Viet Nam, Mexico, Colombia and Turkey too, there is a noticeable dynamism which is producing not only prosperity for broad sections of the population but also a desire and claim to participate in and help shape what’s going on in the world.

Just a few years ago, the BRICS states – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – were an acronym familiar only to investment bankers, who identified them simply as emerging markets. Over the past ten years our exports to these countries have multiplied, as have those of our French, British and Italian neighbours. Thanks to their increased economic strength, these countries have grown into a political force without which no global solutions can be negotiated or agreed. Not even by Europe and the US together.

Their rise is fundamentally changing world politics. The old order is teetering, and the new one has yet to emerge, but its contours are becoming discernable.

Germany looks to the United Nations when it comes to efforts towards peace and security as well as the fight against poverty and underdevelopment. It’s the only institution with universal political responsibility and broad-based legitimacy. It would be inconceivable to do without the United Nations – as a world forum, as a catalyst for raising political awareness, as a place to negotiate international regulations, and also as an actor in grave crises. It is our stated goal to strengthen the United Nations through Germany’s committed contributions, in New York and also in its many sub-organizations.

The United Nations, however, can only be as strong and effective as its member states allow it to be. The UN Security Council does not reflect today’s world. For that reason, the UN can’t be our sole answer to the new challenges we face. The capacity to find global solutions to these challenges will not appear instantly, as if by magic – for example, with the establishment of the G20. We need to broaden our network for global solutions – undoubtedly, this will centre on the United Nations. That’s why strategic partnerships with the world’s new centres of power are the necessary building blocks of effective global governance. These new partnerships can be built only through openness, patience and mutual respect.

In many of these countries we have a good foundation for building trust. We want to build on this and broaden our agenda to encompass political issues – peace, security, the rule of law, respect for human rights, Internet freedom. Some of these efforts will succeed, and will then also benefit consensus-building in the United Nations. Because globalization is not just a matter of ever-faster economic competition; it is also a globalization of values and lifestyles. What we’re seeing in many areas, and specifically among Europe’s neighbours, is the globalization of enlightenment, the globalization of values.

Ladies and gentlemen, we must also note soberly that in some places, however, our efforts will fail. Not all of these countries will become partners with shared values to the same extent as Japan or South Korea, for example. We do not hide our values. But neither can we afford to cooperate only with those who share them entirely. We owe it to ourselves to stand up for those who defend human rights all around the world. Let’s be realistic enough to accept that we cannot force our values on others, and at the same time self-confident enough to trust in their attractiveness. The rule of law and human rights are ideas which exert a tremendous power.

It is in Europe’s fundamental interest for the new centres of power to become forces truly shaping globalization and for them to make global governance their own goal. These new partnerships are the consequence of the changes that have occurred and will occur in the world. If we want to positively and successfully help shape the world, we have to see it as it is today, not as it used to be. This is not a break with proven ways, but rather the necessary and logical further development of German foreign policy in a changing world.

The world will change again over the next ten years, just as much as it has done since German reunification. We need to be ready for that – in our thinking, in our presence, in our foreign policy. A year ago we launched the AA2020 project here. Some things have already been implemented which will adapt the Foreign Service to meet the challenges of today’s world. But much remains to be done. What changes must we make to our network abroad, our structure here in this building, our cooperation with other federal ministries? We do not want to sidestep these difficult questions. On the contrary: our task is to take up your contributions and then set our course by next summer. Germany needs a Foreign Service that is attractive in tomorrow’s world and fit for the future.

We are living on the threshold of change. Technological innovation is changing the world around us at an astonishing speed. More people have the chance to enjoy freedom, human rights, education and prosperity in today’s world than ever before. It is worth fighting and working to ensure that even more people have the chance to do so in tomorrow’s world. The Franco-German partnership is committed to this goal, as is European foreign policy. Europe needs to get its own house in order. Then it will be attractive enough to make its voice heard even in the polyphonic choir of tomorrow’s world.

As a political union Europe can itself be a power in shaping globalization. This is what’s at stake.

Europe is the true response to a changing world; and in these times, when Europe faces doubt at home and abroad, it should have enough friends and supporters who stand up against the current spirit of re-nationalization. I know that the French Foreign Minister is on my side in this. I know that Germany and France, France and Germany, regard themselves as a driving force in the European Union. That’s why there could be no better occasion than this Ambassadors Conference to have you, Alain, Minister Juppé, as our guest speaker.

Thank you for your attention, and now please welcome Alain Juppé.

Related content

Top of page